As half of the country-punk (punk-country?) duo Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke, the Texas-bred Wilde has produced a couple great albums of often raucous music for families. So Brian Eno -- whom I'm most familiar with through his work with the Talking Heads and his album Music for Airports -- was not the first artist I expected Wilde to mention in my series featuring kindie musicians talking about albums that have influenced them as a musician.
But here he is, praising Eno for his 1974 album Here Come the Warm Jets , and he explains how that helped set him off on his musical path, and even draws a link between that nearly-40-year-old album and a track off his latest album, the excellent Pleased To Meet You .
There have been many favorite records over the years I could list as influences but one in particular stands out and seems worth mentioning here: Here Come The Warm Jets – the first solo album by Brian Eno. I must have first discovered the record while working at a record store in Houston – my summer job following my sophomore year in college. Needless to say, the majority of my wages that summer went right back to the company store. My appreciation for diverse genres of music (and my record collection) expanded quite a bit in those two months.
The record had been out for a few years and was certainly not Eno’s latest release at the time. Of course, being an obsessive music aficionado, I knew who Eno was. He had been a founding member of Roxy Music – one of my favorite bands – but had left after the second album. And there were the collaborations with Bowie and Talking Heads. And he had produced the first Devo album – was talked about as the “go-to” producer who brought elements of chance and “Oblique Strategies” into the recording studio. So I thought of him as an eccentric, yet somewhat ascetic, technical wizard who tinkered with synthesizers and created ambient records like Music For Films and Music For Airports.
So to discover this quirky singer-songwriter with compelling, absurdist lyrics and catchy melodies mining the history of rock and roll completely knocked me out. The backing band, featuring everyone in Roxy Music except Bryan Ferry, sounded to me like the Velvet Underground – probably my favorite band at the time. And I immediately fell in love with Eno’s voice. There was something so English – the accent, the colloquialisms – that really appealed to me in contrast to all the British singers who tried to sound American. (This appreciation probably later led to my collaboration with Mr. Clarke.)
I listened to the record endlessly. I had been writing and recording odd little songs for a while but now felt like I might actually make a record of my own someday. And I imagined it would be a record like Here Come The Warm Jets. The conflation of several different styles and genres seemed completely natural to me. I overlooked the various components and influences – here was an original sound that I would thereafter label simply “Eno”.
Why not pull out all the hooks and cadences and gorgeous vocal harmonies? Why not write a song like “Baby’s On Fire” that begins with the following lines delivered with snarling sincerity:
Baby’s on fire
Better throw her in the water
Look at her laughing
Like a heifer to the slaughter.
And the song gets even more bizarre as we are introduced to a couple who collect discarded cigarette butts from ashtrays and successfully market them:
Juanita and Juan
Very clever with maracas
Making their fortunes
Selling second hand tobaccos.
Add to the mix a searing guitar solo by Robert Fripp and you’ve got a number one hit that will probably never be played on commercial radio.
“Cindy Tells Me” (which seemed to me a wink to Lou Reed’s songs that transcribed a personal confession from a female confidante – “Candy Says”, “Stephanie Says”, Lisa Says”) is a 50’s progression with bouncy piano and falsetto harmonies.
But it was the second side of the album that really knocked me out. Side two opens with “On Some Faraway Beach” – a lovely song that instantly crept into my head and has never left. The piece begins with a simple melodic piano part repeated over and over throughout the song as more pianos (22 in all) are added along with other instruments and lilting vocal harmonies. The song gradually builds for over 4 minutes and culminates in a haunting lyric about being swept away into eternity.
I acquired a four-track cassette recorder around that time and spent endless hours layering simple instrumental bits and multi-tracked vocal harmonies. (I now have boxes of cassette tapes gradually deteriorating in my parent’s attic) For the final track on our album Rise and Shine – a song called “Pekepoo” – we deliberately tried to channel the spirit and structure of “On Some Faraway Beach”. The resulting track was originally nearly 8 minutes in length and cutting it down to 4:58 was painful and not entirely successful.
“Dead Finks Don’t Talk”, with its shifting tempo and background vocal chants, was unlike anything I had ever heard before and remains one of my favorite Eno creations. Though not intentional, I see a direct connection between that song and “Conversation” - one of my favorite songs on our most recent record Pleased To Meet You.
Here Come The Warm Jets ends with a predominately instrumental title track (Eno repeated this strategy on his follow up record Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy) but the penultimate tune, “Some Of Them Are Old”, is the loveliest of all. A melodic hymn with Eno multi-tracking all the vocal harmonies:
People come and go and forget to close the door,
And leave their stains and cigarette butts trampled on the floor,
And when they do, remember me, remember me.
I will always remember this record and the joy it has brought me over the years. And I hope to someday create a song that will impart a similar joy to some listener – young or old.